Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World


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Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment

It left a gory toll of killed Spanish settlers. In all, between and , French corsairs carried out around sixty attacks against Spanish settlements and captured over seventeen Spanish vessels in the region — While Frenchmen and Spaniards fought one another in Europe and the Caribbean, England sided with Spain, largely because of dynastic alliances.

In , Prince Henry of England married Princess Catherine of Aragon and soon thereafter they were crowned king and queen. During their brief reign, the Church of England was again subject to the pope's authority. Her successor, Elizabeth , actually rejected a plan to continue the Anglo-Spanish dynastic union when she refused to consider marrying Philip; she was to remain virgin and Protestant. As Protestantism spread further in European kingdoms such as England and France and it became predominant in other formerly Catholic nations, religious antagonisms played an increasingly important role in determining war and peace among the nations of Europe.

Tensions increased between England and Spain, particularly following the ascent of Anglican Queen Elizabeth to the throne in Protestantism also spread in France and throughout parts of the Holy Roman Empire. By the mids, two discernible opposing blocs had taken shape: a southern European Catholic bloc led by Spain and a northern European bloc led by England. Spain's relations with England further soured upon the crowning of Elizabeth in She openly supported the Dutch insurrection and aided Huguenot forces in France. After decades of increasing tensions and confrontations in the northern Atlantic and the Caribbean, Anglo-Spanish hostilities broke out in , when the English Crown dispatched over 7, troops to the Netherlands and Queen Elizabeth liberally granted licenses for privateers to carry out piracy against Spain's Caribbean possessions and vessels.

Tensions further intensified in , when Elizabeth I ordered the execution of Catholic Mary Queen of Scotts after twenty years of captivity and gave the order for a preemptive attack against the Spanish Armada stationed in Cadiz.

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Spain rebuilt its naval forces, largely with galleons built in Havana, and continued to fight England until Elizabeth's death in Spain, however, had received a near-fatal blow that ended its standing as Europe's most powerful nation and virtually undisputed master of the Indies. Following the Franco-Spanish peace treaty of , crown-sanctioned French corsair activities subsided, but piratical Huguenot incursions persisted and in at least one instance led to the formation of a temporary Huguenot settlement in the Isle of Pines, off Cuba.

English piracy increased during the reign of Charles I, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland — and became more aggressive as Anglo-Spanish relations tensed up further during the Thirty Years' War. Although Spain and the Netherlands had been at war since the s, the Dutch were latecomers, appearing in the region only after the mids, when the Dutch Republic was no longer on the defensive in its long conflict against Spain.

Dutch privateering became more widespread and violent beginning in the s. English incursions in the Spanish-claimed Caribbean boomed during Queen Elizabeth's rule. These actions originally took the guise of well-organized, large-scale smuggling expeditions headed by piratical smugglers the likes of John Hawkins , John Oxenham , and Francis Drake ; their primary objectives were smuggling African slaves into Spain's Caribbean possessions in exchange for tropical products.

Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World

Hawkins and his contemporaries mastered the devilish art of maximizing the number of slaves that could fit into a ship. He and other slave traders methodically packed slaves by having them lay on their sides, spooned against one another. Hawkins and Drake barely escaped but Oxenham was captured, convicted of heresy by the Inquisition and burned alive. Many of the battles of the Anglo-Spanish war were fought in the Caribbean, not by regular English troops but rather by privateers whom Queen Elizabeth had licensed to carry out attacks on Spanish vessels and ports.

These were former pirates who now held a more venerable status as privateers. During those years, over seventy-five documented English privateering expeditions targeted Spanish possessions and vessels. Drake terrorized Spanish vessels and ports. Early in , his forces seized Santo Domingo , retaining control over it for around a month. Before departing they plundered and destroyed the city, taking a huge bounty. The development of agriculture in the Caribbean required a large workforce of manual labourers, which the Europeans found by taking advantage of the slave trade in Africa.

Slaves were brought to the Caribbean from the early 16th century until the end of the 19th century. The majority of slaves were brought to the Caribbean colonies between and Also in there was a slave revolution in the colony of Barbados. The following table lists the number of slaves brought into some of the Caribbean colonies: [18]. Abolitionists in the Americas and in Europe became vocal opponents of the slave trade throughout the 19th century.

The importation of slaves to the colonies was often outlawed years before the end of the institution of slavery itself. It was well into the 19th century before many slaves in the Caribbean were legally free.


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Men, women and children who were already enslaved in the British Empire remained slaves, however, until Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act in When the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in , roughly , slaves in the British West Indies immediately became free; other enslaved workers were freed several years later after a period of forced apprenticeship. Slavery itself was not abolished in Cuba until France abolished slavery in its colonies in They lived as single slaves or as part of maternal or extended families but considered themselves 'married.

European plantations required laws to regulate the plantation system and the many slaves imported to work on the plantations. This legal control was the most oppressive for slaves inhabiting colonies where they outnumbered their European masters and where rebellion was persistent such as Jamaica. During the early colonial period, rebellious slaves were harshly punished, with sentences including death by torture; less serious crimes such as assault, theft, or persistent escape attempts were commonly punished with mutilations, such as the cutting off of a hand or a foot.

Under British rule, slaves could only be freed with the consent of their master, and therefore freedom for slaves was rare. British colonies were able to establish laws through their own legislatures, and the assent of the local island governor and the Crown. British law considered slaves to be property, and thus did not recognize marriage for slaves, family rights, education for slaves, or the right to religious practices such as holidays.

British law denied all rights to freed slaves, with the exception of the right to a jury trial. Otherwise, freed slaves had no right to own property, vote or hold office, or even enter some trades. The French Empire regulated slaves under the Code Noir Black Code which was in force throughout the empire, but which was based upon French practices in the Caribbean colonies.

French law recognized slave marriages, but only with the consent of the master. French law, like Spanish law, gave legal recognition to marriages between European men and black or Creole women. French and Spanish laws were also significantly more lenient than British law in recognizing manumission , or the ability of a slave to purchase their freedom and become a "freeman".

Under French law, free slaves gained full rights to citizenship. The French also extended limited legal rights to slaves, for example the right to own property, and the right to enter contracts. The exploitation of the Caribbean landscape dates back to the Spanish conquistadors starting in the s, who forced indigenous peoples held by Spanish settlers in encomienda to mine for gold. The more significant development came when Christopher Columbus wrote back to Spain that the islands were made for sugar development.

Much like the Spanish exploited indigenous labor to mine gold, the 17th century brought a new series of oppressors in the form of the Dutch, the English, and the French. By the middle of the 18th century sugar was Britain's largest import which made the Caribbean that much more important as a colony. Sugar was a luxury in Europe prior to the 18th century. It became widely popular in the 18th century, then graduated to becoming a necessity in the 19th century. This evolution of taste and demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient unleashed major economic and social changes.

Following the emancipation of slaves in in the United Kingdom, many liberated Africans left their former masters. This created an economic chaos for British owners of Caribbean sugar cane plantations. The hard work in hot, humid farms required a regular, docile and low-waged labour force. The British looked for cheap labour.

This they found initially in China and then mostly in India. The British crafted a new legal system of forced labour, which in many ways resembled enslavement. Indians and southeast Asians began to replace Africans previously brought as slaves, under this indentured labour scheme to serve on sugarcane plantations across the British empire. The first ships carrying indentured labourers for sugarcane plantations left India in Over the next 70 years, numerous more ships brought indentured labourers to the Caribbean, as cheap and docile labor for harsh inhumane work.

The slave labor and indentured labor - both in millions of people - were brought into Caribbean, as in other European colonies throughout the world. The New World plantations were established in order to fulfill the growing needs of the Old World. The sugar plantations were built with the intention of exporting the sugar back to Britain which is why the British did not need to stimulate local demand for the sugar with wages.

The new system in place however was similar to the previous as it was based on white capital and colored labor. Unlike other countries, where there was an urban option for finding work, the Caribbean countries had money invested in agriculture and lacked any core industrial base. The products produced brought in no profits for the countries since they were sold to the colonial occupant buyer who controlled the price the products were sold at.

This resulted in extremely low wages with no potential for growth since the occupant nations had no intention of selling the products at a higher price to themselves.

History of the Caribbean

The result of this economic exploitation was a plantation dependence which saw the Caribbean nations possessing a large quantity of unskilled workers capable of performing agricultural tasks and not much else. After many years of colonial rule the nations also saw no profits brought into their country since the sugar production was controlled by the colonial rulers. This left the Caribbean nations with little capital to invest towards enhancing any future industries unlike European nations which were developing rapidly and separating themselves technologically and economically from most impoverished nations of the world.

The Caribbean region was war-torn throughout much of colonial history, but the wars were often based in Europe, with only minor battles fought in the Caribbean. Some wars, however, were borne of political turmoil in the Caribbean itself. Piracy in the Caribbean was often a tool used by the European empires to wage war unofficially against one another.

Gold plundered from Spanish ships and brought to Britain had a pivotal effect on European interest in colonizing the region. The plantation system and the slave trade that enabled its growth led to regular slave resistance in many Caribbean islands throughout the colonial era. Resistance was made by escaping from the plantations altogether, and seeking refuge in the areas free of European settlement.

Communities of escaped slaves, who were known as Maroons , banded together in heavily forested and mountainous areas of the Greater Antilles and some of the islands of the Lesser Antilles.

The spread of the plantations and European settlement often meant the end of many Maroon communities, although they survived on Saint Vincent and Dominica , and in the more remote mountainous areas of Jamaica , Hispaniola , Guadeloupe and Cuba. Violent resistance broke out periodically on the larger Caribbean islands. Many more conspiracies intended to create rebellions were discovered and ended by Europeans before they could materialize.

Jamaica and Cuba in particular had many slave uprisings. Such uprisings were brutally crushed by European forces. Haiti , the former French colony of Saint-Domingue on Hispaniola , was the first Caribbean nation to gain independence from European powers in This followed 13 years of war that started as a slave uprising in and quickly turned into the Haitian Revolution under the leadership of Toussaint l'Ouverture , where the former slaves defeated the French army twice , the Spanish army, and the British army, before becoming the world's first and oldest black republic , and also the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere after the United States.

This is additionally notable as being the only successful slave uprising in history. The remaining two-thirds of Hispaniola were conquered by Haitian forces in In , the newly formed Dominican Republic declared its independence from Haiti. The nations bordering the Caribbean in Central America gained independence with the establishment of the First Mexican Empire —which at that time included the modern states of Mexico , Guatemala , El Salvador , Honduras , Nicaragua , and Costa Rica.

Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World
Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World
Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World
Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World
Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World
Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World
Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: Political Economy of the Caribbean World

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